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While all our lonely eyes are turned toward the TSA and their desire to either give us cancer or feel us up, there’s another set of regulations that the government has foisted upon us that might bear a little scrutiny. That is if you like the 2nd Amendment, in practice as well as abstract theory. I speak of the laws that govern the transfer of firearms betwixt a customer and some other entity, be it dealer, private seller, or manufacturer.

When I first started writing on guns, I had visions of getting all sorts of firearms in to review. (I also had visions of getting a lot of free swag that proved to be so much smoke, too, but that’s a different story.) I’d never bought a gun from anywhere other than a dealer, and therefore had no prior experience in the transfer of a weapon from one person/company to another.

I quickly learned that all this talk about “FFL” meant that the Federal Government was watching over us, making certain…we’ll I’m not sure exactly of WHAT they are making certain, but let’s leave it at “they regulate the process.” I’m sure it has something to do with the vaunted “Commerce Clause,” although I can see nothing that gives the Government the power to run roughshod over my right to buy, much less to bear arms. (I am A-OK, however with them restricting the arming of bears.)

The way the process is supposed to work is this: I buy a gun (or order one for review). I select a local dealer with a Federal Firearms License that agrees to receive said shipment. They get it shipped to them. I go pick it up, and pay an extra fee (usually around $30) for the privilege.

That’s the way it’s supposed to work. Your results may vary. A lot, as it turns out.

Now, getting my FFL cherry popped, as it were, didn’t seem to be that big a deal. Whoops. Wrong. I’d been staying with my father, out-of-state, taking care of him before he died. I be-bopped down to my friendly neighborhood sporting goods emporium and got a copy of their FFL to fax (how quaint!) to a manufacturer, so they could send me a firearm for review. Simple, no? Simple? No.

The gun came in, as planned. That was when I discovered idiosyncrasy (with an emphasis on the “idiot” part of the word) in the Federal gun laws. Even though I was in Louisiana, I could not actually receive the weapon here, for my driver’s license is from the Great State of Texas. So I had to have the gun shipped a second time from the Louisiana dealer to one in Texas (an hour away by car), drive over and pick it up, then drive BACK to Louisiana (with apologies to Delbert McClinton) to shoot the bloody thing and review it.

Seems Federal law prohibits me (or anyone else) from receiving a firearm in a state not their own. Now I have no idea how this works for gun scribes on the road, or people that have no fixed place of address (active duty military, anybody? Somebody? Beuller?). Apparently they are S.O.L. Completely FUBAR’d, if you know what I mean.

So I get the gun sent to Texas. Call to make sure everything’s okay, as I’m now suspicious that this process is not as easy as advertised. No gun. Mind you, I have just sent it over. Waited two days to be on the safe side. Only by waiving a tracking number in front of them with a delivery confirmation notice, was I able to prove that they did indeed have the gun. Turned out Dealer A had neglected to put my name on the box, so they had no idea who the gun was for.

I was under the misapprehension that I’d have to do the same thing on the flip side, but by this time I’m paranoid about it. I call. Find out, no, I can actually ship it out from Louisiana. Seems the Feds don’t care who ships what, where, as long as they do it through an FFL, and as long as the person receiving it is a legal resident of the state in which they receive the gun.

Since I was going to be in Louisiana a while, I briefly considered getting an in-state driver’s license. That is until I found out that process could take a couple of months. (Seems the Feds don’t have a monopoly on logic, reason, and efficiency.)

So now it comes time to do it again. This time, we cut out the middleman, and ship the gun directly to Texas. It goes two-day air. For reasons I still do not understand, I call two days later and was told “Nope. No gun.” The next day, same story. Monday comes, and the gun dealer is closed. Today dawns, and I call, expecting to hear that the gun is there waiting for me. No dice. No gun. No fun.

Having anticipated this kind of post-traumatic flashback, I waive a delivery confirmation receipt under their noses by phone. Since they can’t see me waiving, it does little good. I am finally able to convince the lass on the other end of the blower that they do, indeed, have received shipment of my review gun. But the gun is nowhere to be found.

An hour or so later, I get a call from FFL Hell. Turns out, some Nimrod (in the Elmer Fudd sense of the word) figured, “hey…we got this pistol in and I don’t know who ordered it or who it’s for. Maybe we should sell it.” I’m NOT making this up. Fortunately, I had called in the Nicholas of time, before the gun was sold to a customer.

Now you’d think that in an enterprise so carefully monitored by Uncle Sam and his minions, this process would be a wee bit more foolproof. And you’d be wrong. Wrong. WRONG! A buddy of mine in Texas runs an up-market sporting goods store. He’s regaled me from time to time with stories of the ATF (and sometimes E) and how they can come in any old time they please, and ask to see all the store’s FFL transfer records. And woe be unto he who doeth not have said records in order.

Apparently, these checks occur for only two reasons – the ATF (and sometimes E) has a reason to believe the store is trafficking in so-called “Straw Man-purchases” (which has nothing to do with Ray Bolger, I understand), or they suspect a gun used to commit a crime has been purchased through the store.

While I’m all for keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, checking for straw man purchases is absurd, as long as private citizens can sell their property privately. And checking out where a crime gun was purchased seems a lot like locking the barn door after the cows have escaped.

Of course, little the government does makes sense to me any more. Why should this be any different. I’m actually in favor of allowing (within reason) some profiling, at least so far as it goes in singling out suspicious individuals for extra scrutiny, when boarding a plane or buying a gun. Of course, my luck they’d consider white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants with no criminal records fair game, and let the guys who look like they’re ready to jack a convenience store have a pass. Your tax dollars at work. Sure.

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  1. If you are in the military and living on base you maintain residency in the state that you last lived off base in or in the state that you joined in, which is the case for most. To buy a handgun in the state that you are stationed in but not a resident of you only have show proof that you are indeed stationed in said state.

  2. All is needed for a serviceman to purchase a gun are orders assigning you to a location within that state and military ID.

  3. Brad: While I realize it's tres chic to blame the federal government for everything, it seems to me that every screwup here took place in the private sector.

    Laws requiring handgun buyers to be a resident of the state in which the purchase is made have been in existince for as long as I've been buying guns, over 30 years. In fact, I'm pretty sure they came out of the 1968 gun control act, so they're nothing new. As for their purpose, I'm not 100% certain but my guess is that they were primarily put in place to prevent people from being able to thwart their own state's gun laws by crossing state lines. In the days before mandatory instant checks and linked computer databases, this made more sense than it does now. In any case, your wrath should be directed at those who wrote the laws, i.e. Congress.

  4. Most likely your bad experiences came about because you were working with dealers who were not familiar with interstate transfers. Gunbroker and other sites have listings of dealers who are more than happy to handle interstate firerarms transactions within the law and most of them are pretty savvy about how to get them done. My own transfers are handled through a local pawn shop (yes, a pawn shop) and last time they did a transfer, not only was I able to track the firearm (actually an unassembled AR-15 lower) from the seller to the pawn shop via internet, but the shop called me directly as soon as the item came in so I could swing by there on my way home from work.

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